Whenever a man is murdered, the most likely suspect is always his wife. But Solomon Royal, the polygamous Prophet of Purity, a compound on the border of Arizona and Utah, leaves behind so many widows—from his eldest wife, nonpareil cook Sister Ermaline, to Valkyrie Sister Martha and pregnant Sister Jean—that Utah authorities decide to simplify matters, bypassing them all and arresting Esther Corbett, the mother of Solomon’s latest intended, 13-year-old Rebecca Corbett, whose estranged father had swapped her to the Prophet for two 16-year-olds to call his own before Flagstaff private eye Lena Jones (Desert Noir, not reviewed) helped her to escape. Turning a blind eye to Rebecca’s and Lena’s accusations of polygamy, Arizona authorities prepare to extradite Esther to the tender mercies of a Utah court. The only way to save her, Lena decides, is to get the goods on the real killer, and the only way to gather evidence in such a closed community as Purity is to infiltrate it as retired contractor Saul Berkhauser’s latest wife. The only problem is that Saul’s position in Purity is none too secure, plus fiery Lena, still seared by memories of her own mother’s attempt to kill her, is the world’s least convincing submissive wife: she can’t keep her mouth shut (or, sometimes, keep her fists to herself) long enough to listen to an entire potentially incriminating conversation.
An untidy whodunit wrapped around an impassioned denunciation of polygamy—an allegedly extinct lifestyle that, Webb’s closing note argues, continues to flourish, sowing the seeds of many a real-life disaster.